This article is sponsored by FindCollegeCards.com, a great resource to compare student credit cards.
Having a credit card of your own is an essential part of life. You are in college now, so you should at least have a credit card to start building your own credit (even if you do still use your mom’s Visa card).
Some people disagree with that and just use bank cards or debit cards. That is a great strategy to conserve money and know exactly how much you cash you have. The problem with this is that bank cards are not accepted in nearly as many places as credit cards (though this is changing), and that they won’t do anything to your credit.
As long as you are able to pay off your credit card each money and don’t spend hours shopping on Amazon.com like I did last night, you will be fine.
Now that you have decided you need to get a new credit card, which one should you pick? Let’s consider some important factors:
If this is your first credit card, do not expect to get a high credit limit. Credit card companies are usually afraid of people with no credit history and will give you something between $500 and $1000 maximum credit. After six months or so, you should be able to increase your limit if you have been paying your card every month.
If you already have credit, you will have more flexibility in choosing. Choose one appropriate for your buying needs, not just the maximum limit you can get. I have not heard of a credit card that does not offer fraud and theft protection, but in case your card does get stolen, do not risk getting bad credit and don’t get a card with a $40,000 limit you would never be able to pay. Plus, you do not want to tempt yourself, do you?
As a general rule, be reasonable, but always leave a little room for those emergencies.
Interest Rate (APR)
Many student credit cards have high APR (annual percentage rates) or interest rates. You want to try to shoot for something less than 11% per year, but if you do not have credit you will probably end up with something closer to 18%. This is not a problem if you plan on paying your credit card every month since you will not have a balance to receive interest on.
Generally I stay away from any type of annual fees. AmEx (American Express) and high-paying reward cards are well known for this. For rewards cards, I generally find the rewards are not worth the fees you end up paying. If this is your first credit card, stay away from those.
Pay special attention to other fees associated with your credit card. If you are planning on doing a balance transfer, try to find a card that offers 0% interest at least for one year. Make sure the penalty rate is reasonable and what triggers the penalty (late payment, over limit, etc.). Be sure to also get a card with a low interest rate and standard fees on cash advances, if you ever plan on getting one (remember: emergencies happen).
There are many great rewards programs available. I generally go for the cash rewards program as my spending is diverse. If you spend a lot on gas or airfare, then check out rewards programs which give you free airline tickets or more reward points at gas stations.
Where to Get a Credit Card
You can apply online to all major cards, you can apply at your local branch, or you can go to a small local credit union at your university and apply there. Applying online is easy. Applying at a bank you already have a checking or savings account with can be convenient when it comes time to pay your credit card bill (you can also usually apply online). And, going to a small local credit union will usually give you a credit card with low fees and APR.
Good Credit Cards to Consider
Some good low-rate, low-fee cards:
Capital One Platinum Prestige: no annual fees, no ballance transfer fees, 7.9% APR
American Express Clear: no fees, 0% APR for one year, 5.99% APR on balance transfers, free annual credit report with credit score (you can get a free annual report from the top three credit bureaus, but they will not give you your credit score for free)
Some good cash back cards:
Chase Freedom: no annual fee, 14.99% APR, 1-3% cash back on all purchases (what I use)
Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards: 14.9% APR, 2% cash back on gas and groceries, 1% cash back on all other purchases
Discover More: 0% APR for 6 months, 0% APR for 12 months on balance transfers, 5% cash back restricted purchases, 0.25-1% cash back on all other purchases
American Express Blue: no annual fee, 0% APR for one year, 4.99% APR on balance transfers, 5% cash back (with restrictions)
Some good rewards cards:
Chase PerfectCard MasterCard: no annual fee, 0% introductory APR, 3% rebate on gas, 1% rewards on all other purchases
American Express True Earnings Card: doubles as a Costco card, no annual fee, 14.99% APR, 3% cash back on restaurants and gas, 2% cash back on travel, 1% cash back on all other purchases
Citi PremierPass: no annual fee, 10.99% or more APR. one point per three miles you fly and/or for every dollar you spend, no blackout dates
Now, it your turn. Which card are you going to pick?